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Group: No street access? No interest in Regions Bank land

Lawsuit over easement of City Center property threatens project

POSTED: January 29, 2009 11:58 p.m.

County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said he and two business partners won’t buy the Regions Bank property on Jesse Jewell Parkway without the Bradford Street access, which is the subject of a lawsuit.

"If the easement’s not there, I don’t think there’s any reason I’d be interested in it," Oliver said.

Oliver and Gainesville-Hall Redevelopment Authority attorney Tread Syfan have plans to purchase the Regions Operations Center under the corporation name City View Investments LLC.

Oliver confirmed Thursday that County Commissioner Billy Powell also is a partner in City View.

Oliver said the question over the easement came up when City View was completing due diligence on the property sale.

"That’s a legal technicality," Oliver said. "I’m not a lawyer. I’m a farmer, and so I turned that over to the legal guys."

Syfan’s involvement in the land deal has been called into question by the redevelopment authority, and the authority will meet this morning to determine if it is a conflict of interest with his role as the authority’s attorney.

Oliver said the land deal was not a conflict with his role as chairman of the county commission, but would not comment on whether Syfan’s involvement was.

"That’s not my party," he said.

Last year, the authority sold the city’s public safety facility to Gainesville City Center LLC as a key part of the redevelopment of Gainesville’s Midtown district. The purchase made way for the development of a high-rise hotel and office complex on the old Town View Plaza property. Syfan drew up the paperwork for that sale in his role as attorney for the authority.

The developers in Gainesville City Center LLC now say their plans for the development are delayed because of a lawsuit with Regions Financial Corp. over access to the adjacent bank property that City View plans to purchase.

Gainesville City Center recently restricted the building’s access to Bradford Street with a chain-link fence.

If it stays, the fence could be a deal breaker in City View’s purchase of the property, Oliver said, and it already has caused the bank to file suit against Gainesville City Center developers Wendell Stark and Lee Caswell.

In the suit filed last week, Regions Financial Corp. claims that with the erection of the fence, Gainesville City Center violated a 24-year-old easement agreement that allows bank access from the former Town View Plaza parking lot on Bradford Street.

The Oct. 18, 1984, agreement called for perpetual access to the bank from Bradford Street that would stay with the property despite any changes in ownership. The agreement also states that the easement "to the paved parking areas shall expire 10 years from the date hereof."

The developers have acted on the assumed 10-year expiration of the easement, but Steve Gilliam, an attorney for the bank, said the expiration date does not apply to driveways to the building.

"The driveway easements do not expire, so it’s that simple," Gilliam said.

If Regions wins the lawsuit, Oliver, Syfan and Powell’s City View Investments will likely purchase the bank property. Starke and Caswell could be forced to redesign the hotel and office development, which was largely already designed and slated for construction early this year, Starke said.



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